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Ahead of Mexico's Vote, a Young Indigenous Woman Asks for an End to Silence Over Deaths and Disappearances

Joven Guerrero

“From October 26, 2012 to May 30, 2015, I can count 50 young people that are missing.” A student from Guerrero state in Mexico responds to Rigoberta Menchú's and the Mexican political parties’ call to vote. Screenshot taken from the video shared on social networks.

Following the tragic disappearance of 43 students last year, demonstrators in the state of Guerrero have advocated suspending an election planned for June 7, saying citizens could be voting on politicians tied to the illegal drug trade. Not everyone is on board with this initiative, however, leading to a scandal last month, wherein two officials defied calls to postpone voting and urged citizens to head to the polls.

On May 29, during a conference in Acapulco, Guerrero Governor Rogelio Ortega and Rigoberta Menchú, the recently appointed “election observer” by the National Electoral Institute (INE) encouraged people to participate in voting later this month. Responding to a question from the audience, Menchú (a human rights activist and an indigenous leader from Guatemala who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992) called on Mexicans to vote, igniting passions online and making her the target of a firestorm of criticism.

The call to vote promoted by the INE went out amid massive social discontent over the upcoming local and federal elections on June 7. Guerrero state in particular saw demonstrations to ask citizens not to go to voting booths due to violence and insecurity. These demonstrations have been led mainly by the parents of the 43 missing students of the Raúl Isidro Burgos Normal Rural School in Ayotzinapa.

Online networks took a special interest in the words of a young woman at the conference, who responded to this call by saying:

No sé cómo nos pueden pedir que hagamos un voto […] Tengo 27 años […] y desde el 26 de octubre de 2012 hasta el 30 de mayo de 2015 puedo contar 50 desaparecidos jóvenes […] ¿Cómo señor Gobernador me puede llamar a votar? ¿Cómo partidos políticos de Guerrero nos pueden pedir a los jóvenes que somos el más numeroso índice de población en México? ¿Cómo nos pueden llamar al voto?

I don't know how you can ask us to vote […] I'm 27 years old […] and since October 26, 2012 to May 30, 2015, I can count 50 young people that are missing […] How, Mr. Governor, can you ask me to vote? How can Guerrero's political parties ask us young people — seeing as how we're Mexico's largest portion of the population — to vote?

And then, speaking directly to the Nobel Prize winner, she added:

La indignación y la rabia no se puede acabar y sé que usted lo entiende. No podemos seguir pidiendo un minuto de silencio por los desaparecidos porque pedir un minuto de silencio por cada desaparecido y por cada asesinado en nuestro país, en nuestro estado, es quedarnos callados eternamente.

The fury and outrage cannot be extinguished and I know you understand that. We cannot keep asking for a minute of silence for the missing because asking for a minute of silence for each missing person and murder victim in our country, in our state, would mean that we remain forever silent.

Below is the complete video of the speech in Spanish:

Another controversial point derived from statements made by Menchú in regards to the Ayotzinapa case, which caused outrage amongst many.

The Desinformémonos organization quoted a representative of the parents of the missing on its Facebook page:

“Rigoberta Menchú está fuera de contexto, porque no conoce la realidad de nuestro estado ni lo que ocurrió en la normal de Ayotzinapa. Si quiere saber la verdad, que pregunte […quién] le está pagando por hacer esos comentarios”, manifestó Felipe de la Cruz, vocero de los padres de los normalistas de Ayotzinapa desaparecidos … [Menchú] está al servicio de quien le pagó”

Rigoberta Menchú is out of context because she is unfamiliar with the reality of our state and with what happened at the school in Ayotzinapa. If you want to know the truth, ask [who] is paying her to make those comments,” stated Felipe de la Cruz, spokesman for the parents of the missing Ayotzinapa student teachers…[Menchú] is working for those who paid her.”

Her nomination has also been highly questioned on social networks. For example, on Twitter, Aldabi refers to Menchú's position in the face of Guatemala's political crisis.

At the same time, reference was made to comments leaked from an illegally recorded conversation featuring INE president Lorenzo Córdova Vianello, in which he appeared to mock the manner in which another indigenous leader speaks:

The website Pueblos en Camino (Villages en Route) also criticized Menchú's participation in the Mexican elections: 

Rigoberta Menchú, indígena Guatemalteca, Premio Nobel de la Paz 1992, da declaraciones y responde preguntas en una rueda de prensa rodeada de funcionarios del Instituto Nacional Electoral de México. La escena parece más la presentación de una estrella del fútbol adquirida por un equipo europeo por una suma millonaria, que el anuncio de la participación directa de esta personalidad en apoyo al proceso electoral del próximo 7 de junio en México. El parecido no es coincidencia, en primer lugar, porque la intención es precisamente esa: mostrar que han comprado una estrella…

Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous woman from Guatemala and 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner, provides statements and answers questions at a press conference surrounded by INE officials. The scenario looks more like the presentation of a soccer star having just been acquired by a European team for a million-dollar sum […] This is no coincidence, the intention is precisely that: to show people they have purchased a star…

The discussion over Menchú is just one of many debates at play. Support for a general annulment of the vote continues to spread, as citizens question the meaning of their participation in the process.

Researcher Raúl Trejo Delarbre reflects on what is hidden behind this form of protest on his blog, Sociedad y Poder (Society and Power): 

Anular el voto es una decisión dolorosa. Nadie invalida la boleta con alegría. Se trata de una acción que es resultado de la contrariedad y el desaliento. Pero quizá podría contribuir a enfatizar la necesidad de una política diferente.

Mi voto no está secuestrado. Mi albedrío ciudadano me permite otorgar o regatear el sufragio. Anular es una decisión anticlimática y pesimista, pero sincera y libre.

El mal menor no es elegir al partido que nos disguste menos, sino la decisión de no favorecer con nuestro sufragio a ninguno de ellos. El voto es mío, no de los partidos. No de esos partidos […]

Annulling one's vote is a painful decision. Nobody is happy to annul his or her vote. This comes about as a result of contrariness and despondency. But perhaps it could contribute towards emphasizing the need for a different political line.

My vote is not highjacked. As a citizen, my free will allows me to either award or avoid suffrage. To annul one's vote is an anticlimactic and pessimistic decision; but honest and free from political influences.

The lesser of the evils is not to choose a political party that we least dislike, but rather, with our suffrage, decide to favor neither. My vote belongs to me, not to the political parties. Not to those parties […]

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